“I am not the same person I was before watching Maja Ma and Madhuri Dixit play a textually and explicitly lesbian character” – such and more tweets were seen flooding social media, articulating the feelings and reactions of many who have watched Amazon Original Movie, Maja Ma, which premiered on Prime Video on 6th October.
Considering these positive reactions from audiences across the spectrum, the streaming service facilitated a deeply insightful fireside chat on “The Representation of the LGBTQIA+ community in Indian content”.
The panel included Madhuri Dixit (Bollywood icon and Lead Actress, Maja Ma), Anand Tiwari (Director, Maja Ma), Vivek Raj Anand (CEO-Humsafar Trust), Shruta Rawat (Research Manager – Humsafar Trust and co-founder of Umang – Humsafar Trust’s LBT initiative) and Niki Ray (IT/IT’S, @themadbai, storyteller, writer, creator, mental health worker and counsellor) and was moderated by Nikhil Taneja, Founder-YUVAA.
The movie showcases a strong, impactful ‘coming out of the closet’ story about Pallavi Patel, a middle-aged Indian woman, beautifully enacted by the Original Queen of Bollywood – Madhuri Dixit. The fireside conversation touched upon how the movie could be instrumental in bringing a new wave of awareness and acceptance of a sensitive subject such as gender identity. The panel further discussed hot this film is a noteworthy example of how content can become an influencing power in helping normalize LGBTQIA+ conversations in Indian households.
The panel members discussed and shared their views on the importance of treating the subject matter sensitively and helping remove the biases around it. The conversation also took a deep dive into why it was necessary to tell this story through the character of Pallavi, who plays a homely, relatable middle-aged woman bringing home the truth that sexuality is just a small part of who you are and does not define you. What you do in your life, and the impact you bring in the life of others around you, is what really matters.
On being asked, about her experience of playing Pallavi Patel- a middle-aged woman who comes out of the closet, Madhuri Dixit shared, “When I read the script, I felt this was a story that needed to be told, to share the message that it takes all kinds of people to make this world and we must accept one another for who we are. Throughout my career, I have gained the love and trust of my fans and I felt confident that my voice would be heard when I talk about a sensitive topic like this, and the turmoil faced by someone who has to go through a similar situation, and even perhaps help spark a change in existing perceptions.” She further added, “I recently saw a tweet by a viewer who watched Maja Ma with her mother and grandmother, and they all loved it. This is what the movie is really about, crossing generations and touching the hearts of the viewers with its beautiful message. I am glad to see that the film is already making an impact and initiating conversations within families and across age groups.”
Anand Tiwari, director of the film shared, “Maja Ma is a story is about acceptance. I believe that being accepted by one’s family members for many of us is vital, be it about one’s gender identity, career choice, or anything else that is important and really defines you. It can truly empower you.” He further added, “Right from when the initial idea of Maja Ma came up, we knew where we were going with it. We would not have been able to do so without the expertise and in-depth knowledge on the subject provided by organizations such as Humsafar, Umang and YUVAA, who brought authenticity into the character of Pallavi Patel, superbly enacted by Madhuri Dixit.”
“I believe any story that the audience can connect and relate to, works. I strongly feel Pallavi is a character that resonates. She represents hundreds and thousands of those people, men or women, who have lived with this truth about themselves for decades but never spoke about this one aspect of their lives.” said Vivek Raj Anand, CEO- Humsafar Trust.
Sharing her views on how Maja Ma can bring about an impactful change in the society, social entrepreneur and writer Niki Ray said, “There is a huge section of Indian people who do not have access to any information or awareness about LGBTQ-related feelings or experiences. In such a situation, Bollywood can serve as a big medium of communication to the masses. So, in terms of impact, if a movie like this, when watched by masses across the country and beyond, can take the message of acceptance across and manage to spark even the slightest thought in people’s minds, that’s a good enough beginning.”
Sharing her opinion on why the younger generation is connecting with this story, Shruta Rawat, Co-Founder, Umang said, “Often, we have seen or even experienced ourselves that those people assigned female gender at birth, generally get boxed in. Until something life-changing happens, people around you do not ask what you want or what you want to be. People do not notice you or give you importance. Its only when a certain truth about you comes out, be it about your gender identity or anything else that cannot be neatly labelled per your gender, is when you are in the spotlight. That’s why Maja Ma resonates so well, and connects strongly, with the youth of today.”
For decades, the onscreen representation of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Indian cinema has been downplayed due to various social prejudices. One seldom comes across a mainstream movie that truly does justice to the challenges that the members of this community face. In the face of this, Maja Ma, a light-hearted family drama, conveys a deep and relevant message that provokes the viewer to move towards creating a progressive society where each one of us is seen and heard not based on our gender or sexual preferences or orientations, but as human beings. How today’s content such as Maja Ma, with established stars like Madhuri Dixit playing a bold character of a lesbian, can have an impact of colossal proportions in driving the representation of the LGTBQIA+ community, underscored the fireside discussion.